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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Feast of Mary's Visitation to St. Elizabeth [Gospel of Luke 1:39-56]

Mary has just been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she will bear a son, Jesus, who will "be great and will be called the Son of the Most High," and heir to the ancient throne of David. She has been told that the Holy Spirit will conceive in her -- a virgin -- this child. And she has assented: "I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be to me as you have said." [Luke 1:26-38]

Mary is confused -- at least you would be if you were Mary. Who can she talk to about this? Her mother? Her rabbi? The only person she knows who will be able to understand her is her relative Elizabeth. The angel has told Mary: "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." [Luke 1:36-37]

And so Mary hurriedly prepares for a trip to see Elizabeth. The Greek uses the noun spoude, which can mean "haste, speed," but also can carry the idea of "eagerness, diligence, enthusiasm, zeal."[1] Mary is in a hurry to go that is clear, though I don't think she is primarily motivated by fear. But still, she is just a young teenager, and this is pretty overwhelming. She needs steadying, guidance. But she is probably eager, as well. This whole experience can't help but be exciting.

We don't know the name of the town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. Guesses at the identity of the town include Jutta, about five miles south of Hebron in Edomite territory, and Ain Karim, five miles from Jerusalem, considered the traditional site since the sixth century.[2] The journey was about 80 to 100 miles and would probably take Mary three to four days.

Mary greets Elizabeth. The Greek word is aspazomai, "greet." For the Jews greeting is an important ceremony.[3] While Jesus censures the Pharisees and teachers of the law for seeking to attract public greetings to honor them, he instructs his disciples to offer a greeting of "Peace to you," in homes that they enter. This word of peace, when received, functions like a powerful blessing upon the householder.

Elizabeth's response is anything but quiet and reserved. Our passage mentions her loudness. The text says that "she cried out with a loud cry.” You know what it is like when someone greets you unexpectedly, a beloved person whom you haven't seen for a long time. I see Elizabeth embracing young Mary, and almost shrieking in joy. But her greeting is more than loud; it is spiritual and Spirit-filled. When Luke uses the phrase, "was filled with the Holy Spirit," it is usually of prophets or others who are about to speak out in prophesy under the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67; 4:1; Acts 2:4; 4:8; 6:3; 7:55).

The first sentence that Elizabeth utters is familiar to many, since it is also found in the second clause of the Roman Catholic "Hail Mary" or "Ave Maria" prayer: "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus...."

Now, Mary, too, breaks out in Spirit-inspired speech. Her first words are an utterance of praise to God for his awesome blessings to her, and sound very similar to the inspired Psalms of the Old Testament. She, who was a peasant girl in a provincial village -- that's pretty humble -- is now one whom all generations will remember and give thanks for.

Mary's Magnificat is strongly reminiscent of Hannah's song of praise (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Hannah had been barren, but God answered her prayer, and now she brings her young boy, Samuel, to the temple and dedicates him to the Lord, to live in God's house. Compare the first line of Hannah's psalm to Mary's and you can see the similarity, as both women exalt in God at the miraculous birth of a child:

"My heart rejoices in the Lord;

in the Lord my horn is lifted high.

My mouth boasts over my enemies,

for I delight in your deliverance.

[1 Samuel 2:1]

"My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant."

[Luke 1:46-48a]

Perhaps we are the new Christians, struggling hard to understand and make our own way. I believe God has someone for us who can help and guide us. It's likely that we'll find this mentor at church -- that's where God-loving, mature believers usually congregate -- or perhaps a small group meeting related to the church. I encourage everyone to pray that God would enable us to find an Elizabeth to help us out during this period of our spiritual journey.

We may be a more mature Christian that God is preparing to be an Elizabeth to some Mary out there. We’ve been through our own share of pain and struggle. We can understand. We can sympathize. But now have found how to walk with the Lord, how to call upon him in need, how to pray. There's a Mary out there who needs us. Be on the lookout for her, when God sends her along. We have our struggles, to be sure, but Mary needs to watch us to meet them with the Lord's help.

Let us rejoice for how God has blessed us, and that God could use us for that special, intimate time. And let us pray that the gifts and understanding of God that we’ve passed onto our Mary might bear fruit in her life and in her children's lives forever.

In conclusion, Mary’s life is centered on Jesus. How can our live be centered on Jesus? We could try everyday to get to know Jesus, meeting Him:

- Through the Word, by reading even just a small part of the Gospel every day

- Through the reception of the sacraments, particularly the EUCHARIST and confession

- Through talking to Him in daily prayer

- Through each other as we together follow Jesus in our daily lives



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